Alektyomancy: Divination by Rooster

We’ve blogged before about the Roman practice of using chickens to tell fortunes. It turns out the Greeks had their own chicken oracle method:

The Pythagoreans inquired about the posthumous fate of their recently dead by using an uncommon method of divination called alektyomancy. On a table were traced squares containing the letters of the alphabet, and in each square seeds were placed. After proper incantations, a white rooster was released, and the letters were read in the order in which the rooster pecked the seeds. The interpretation of the oracle is unknown.(1)

Thankfully you don’t need to own a chicken to practice alektyomancy. There’s an online version.

1) From I.P. Couliano’s book Out of this World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein. Couliano was, incidentally, a gifted scholar whose life was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet. His book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance completely changed my view of Western history.

Hens in the Orchard for Pest Control

hensinorchard

Photo: hencam.com

Author Terry Golson, who blogs at HenCam.com, sent along a great pest control tip in response to our thrip post–chickens, of course!

Chickens and orchards go together like gin and tonic. The hens take care of pests, clean up rotten fruit, add nitrogen to the soil and the canopy of the orchard protects the hens from hawks and heat. Plus you get eggs and meat. Permaculture in action.

The 1920s era photo you see above comes from one of Terry’s posts, Chickens in Orchards.

Looking for Chicken Coop Plans

John Zapf chicken run

Our chicken run–designed by John Zapf.

I got a note from Tricia Cornell, who is putting together a chicken coop plan book. There is a real need for this, so if you have a coop, consider sharing your design:

Hi!

I’m a chicken owner in Minneapolis. I was wondering if you could help me spread the word. I’m looking for smart, good-looking chicken coops to feature in an upcoming book.

If you’re proud of your coop, send pictures to [email protected]. Please indicate whether you would be able to provide building plans. (I have a budget to compensate builders for their plans.) I do *not* need plans to go with all the pictures, so send your pics even without them.

Then I’ll be in touch if your coop meets our needs. Please feel free to share this message with any chicken-owners you know.

A little bit about me: I’m a writer and chicken owner living in Minnesota. I’m the author of Eat More Vegetables: A Guide to Making the Most of Your Seasonal Produce, The Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook, and the Moon guides to Minnesota and the Twin Cities. This is my first chicken-related book.

Thanks!
Tricia Cornell

To each hen her own egg

Barnavelder Auricauna cross eggs

As of June we’ll have had our new hens for a year, and we’re very pleased with them. They’re unusual hybrids. They’re a cross between a Barnevelder, a pretty utility/show breed named after the Dutch town where it was developed, and the more popular Ameraucana.  We got them from our friends at Winnetka Farms, who raise Barnevelders and tried this cross as an experiment.

They’re very nice hens. Pretty. Mild-mannered. Quiet. There’s never any squabbling or pecking. And then are prolific layers of big eggs with big yolks. And here’s what’s interesting: Barnevelders lay brown eggs. Ameraucanas are known for their blue to green eggs. Our “Winnetkavelders” each lay a distinct color egg.

We posted about this when they started laying, but as the hens got older, their eggs became even more distinct, so I thought it worth another mention. All four hens look the identical, but their eggs are different, each expressing different aspects of their parentage. One is classic Barnevelder brown, one is speckled, one is light olive green and the other dark olive drab. The picture doesn’t capture the olives at all.

It’s useful to be able to associate each hen with her egg, so you know if there are any problems with her laying. Unfortunately, these four ladies look so much alike–and tend to visit the nesting box in pairs–so we haven’t been able to ID their eggs yet. Closer surveillance is required!

Continue reading…

Is Urban Homesteading Over With?


It seems that we’re back in a period of irrational exuberance. I know because I keep hearing about people lining up to buy crumbling 1,000 square foot bungalows in dodgy Los Angeles neighborhoods for $1,000,000. History tells us that during these periods folks ditch their chicken coops and vegetable gardens and head to the mall to shop.

I hope I’m wrong, that during our next economic bubble people will be more sensible. And the fundamentals have not changed, specifically the uncertain future of fossil fuels. I’m not trading my trips to the feed store for a shopping spree at Hot Topic anytime soon.

So I thought I’d plug a few search terms relating to urban homesteading into Google Trends to see what is going on. This is, of course, highly unscientific–Google Trends may just reflect media generated interest, not what people are actually doing. Here’s what I found:

Backyard Chickens

Many urban homesteading activities are seasonal–in spring people start searching for information on chickens and vegetable gardens, so you’ll see upward spikes towards the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Judging from the results on “backyard chickens,” it looks like that it’s a trend that is growing in popularity. Some of this activity may be related to legalization efforts, but I’d like to think that it reflects a growing dissatisfaction with our industrial agriculture system.

Gardening

It seems that searches for gardening of all kinds–I tried “vegetable gardening,” “vegetable seeds,” “rose pruning” and “lawn care,” are down. I think this may reflect a demographic shift–an older generation dying off. We need to get young people gardening!

Bread Baking

No wonder I can’t seem to offer enough bread baking classes.

Bicycles


Cycling is down, but I’m sure this reflects disenchantment with Lance Armstrong and professional cycling.

Searches for “bike commuting” are up slightly.

It’s inevitable that media interest in home ec topics will decline when the stock market is up. Just remember how quickly vegetable gardens and chicken coops were abandoned in the 1980s. But I have a good feeling that the lessons of the last few years will stick better than they did in the 1970s. What do you think?

Nesting Box Plans in SketchUp

SketchUp is a free and easy to use 3D modeling program. And users have created a library of 3D models you can download. Up until recently most of these models were not particularly useful to DIY urban homesteady types. Enter SketchUp model contributor Rick whose collection of models includes the chicken nesting box above, raised garden beds and a couple of other useful projects.

I’m really looking forward to seeing more open source project models like this and hope to contribute some myself. If you know of any other useful 3D models, leave a comment.

Hay Hooks–The New Hipster Accessory?

With so many city chickens I predict that hay hooks will become just as indispensable to the urban hipster as is the fixed gear bicycle. After years of hauling staw bales up the 30 steps to our house (to use as bedding for the chickens) I just broke down and bought a pair.

A vaquero at the feed store intervened with a neat tip when he saw me struggling to use my new hay hooks to load some bales into a friend’s truck. Here’s what he showed me. Note the red arrow in the photo above. Odds are with new hooks that this distance needs to be shortened a bit. My hay hooks were much easier to use after the feed store guy bent them using one of the anchor points in the truck bed.

In addition to the steps, my other reason for owning hay hooks is that I have to navigate bales down a narrow side yard. Hay hooks make the maneuver above a lot less awkward.

Now when will we see Bianchi come out with the hay hook equivalent of the Pista?

The Hen: An Appreciation

Reading the fine book, On Writing Well, I came across this passage by E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web) about chickens, proving that nothing ever really changes:

From “The Hen: An Appreciation,” which is found in the book of essays, The Second Tree from the Corner, by E.B. White, 1944:

Chickens do not always enjoy an honorable position among city-bred people, although the egg, I notice, goes on and on. Right now the hen is in favor. The war has deified her and she is the darling of the home front, feted at conference tables, praised in every smoking car, her girlish ways and curious habits the topic of many an excited husbandryman to whom yesterday she was a stranger without honor or allure.

My own attachment to the hen dates from 1907, and I have been faithful to her in good times and bad. Ours has not always been an easy relationship to maintain. At first, as a boy in a carefully zoned suburb, I had neighbors and the police to recon with; my chickens had to be as closely guarded as an underground newspaper. Later, as a man in the country, I had my old friends in town to reckon with, most of whom regarded the hen as a comic prop straight out of vaudeville….Their scorn only increased my devotion to the hen. I remained loyal, as a man would to a bride whom his family received with open ridicule. Now it is my turn to wear the smile, as I listen to the enthusiastic cackling of urbanites, who have suddenly taken up the hen socially and who fill the air with their newfound ecstasy and knowledge and the relative charms of the New Hampshire Red and the Laced Wyandotte. You would think, from their nervous cries of wonder and praise, that the hen was hatched yesterday in the suburbs of New York, instead of in the remote past in the jungles of India.

To a man who keeps hens, all poultry lore is exciting and endlessly fascinating. Every spring I settle down with my farm journal and read, with the same glazed expression on my face, the age old story of how to prepare a brooder-house…

I do believe I have seen that exact same glazed expression on Erik’s face as he peruses Backyard Poultry Magazine.